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Question: My child answers back and it’s driving me crazy! Any suggestions?

Back-chat is very frustrating and every parent reading this blog will be full of sympathy. It is a common problem. It stems partly from the child asserting their independence, exerting control and testing out the boundaries. The unspoken agenda is ‘How much will you tolerate? How far can I go?’ It is also about exploring their opinions and their ability to speak their mind which is actually something you approve of- just not the way they are currently doing it! And that is where the frustration lies- your calm self can see this as a developmental stage and celebrates this but your rushed, pressured self sees this as territorial warfare. After all, how come children always choose the most inappropriate moment to ‘challenge’ you?

So it can be a discipline problem which all started with their very first ‘No ’and therefore back-chat should be curbed, addressed immediately and effectively. This requires parents to teach their children to express themselves constructively and with respect for others.

Back-chat can also be as a result of feeling grumpy, being tired or hungry so it’s worth noticing when this behaviour is most evident. We know how much sharper and careless in our own conversation we are when we are having a ‘duvet-day’.

The good news is that, as a developmental stage, it may have nothing to do with anything you did wrong…and it will pass and is not necessarily a sign that they disrespect you. The bad news is that to get changes in this behaviour, it is you that has to take the action. And if you are feeling like you are the victim here, this is not what you want to hear!

It is tempting to answer back with a smart reply, to get into a war of words, especially as you have so many more in your vocabulary. Of course there is an initial ‘high’ for you from putting one over on them but this teaches that word-wars is a good way to solve problems. Is this a strategy that you would want your young adult to operate in their adult relationships?

So you have to put in the work. Here are some things to consider:

  • Stay calm- this demonstrates how to behave in interactions.
  • Keep a watch on when this is at its worst. Is it post-school, in the company of their peers, on waking up? This will suggest the child’s needs for food, status, sleep which you can then do something about.
  • Encourage them to express their opinion on all sorts of occasions and listen attentively. Showing them that you are really listening is important even if you don’t always agree. The important thing is that they speak to you in a calm and respectful manner. Then make sure that they do the same for you. Give and ask for respect.
  • Consider what they see in the media. Do they like comedies with the quick retort, the throw-away last liner, sarcasm and the put-down line? Is this what you enjoy? Is it possible that this is a cultural thing in your home?

Good luck with this. You can make a difference every time you remember to stay calm and your behaviour will, accumulatively, have an impact. Remember you are in it for the long game and it is a developmental stage. Oh, and you are allowed to go to the bottom of the garden and scream from time to time!